The chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation says that despite reports, Mi’kmaw fishers are still looking for a buyer for their lobster catch.
“We are still actively seeking a buyer for the catch and encourage anyone who is interested to contact our Fishery Operations office,” said Chief Michael Sack on Friday.
Sack says the lobster for sale is not connected to the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s moderate livelihood fishery but is instead lobster that was fished through the First Nation’s commercial fishing fleet.
On Wednesday, Sack told reporters that the First Nation was sitting on about 15,000 pounds of lobster in holding tanks they have been unable to sell as they’ve been “blacklisted” from the market as part of the backlash to the Sipekne’katik First Nation launching its moderate livelihood fishery.
He added that they had to pull their three commercial vessels from the Digby wharf because they couldn’t find a buyer.
Even though the commercial lobster season in Area 35, located along the inner Bay of Fundy, remains open until Dec. 30, Sack said it wasn’t economically feasible to continue fishing without a buyer.
The three boats have already been moved to the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., where the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its moderate livelihood fishery in September.
Sack said they stand to lose $1.5 million.
In an interview, Bruce Gidney of Gindey Fisheries Ltd., a lobster wholesaler and exporter, said he would gladly buy commercial lobster caught by Sipekne’katik fishers.
“We’re always looking for lobsters, we need lobsters and if they have commercial licenses then I don’t care who they are, I’m more than willing to buy from them as long as it’s legal. I’m not sure how many boats they have but we could handle three boats easy enough.”
Sack said he reached out to Gidney Friday morning to discuss a potential sale but that it won’t happen.
“A press release surfaced from their company, so I had my acting fisheries manager reach out to them and see what the exact details were, what they were willing to pay and how they were going to go about that,” Sack said.
“She didn’t hear back until later in the day and was told unfortunately they aren’t able to take our lobsters.”
Gidney confirmed that he would not be purchasing the lobster but only because he said he’s not sure of the quality of them and whether they were commercially harvested or part of the moderate livelihood fishery, which he’s unable to purchase according to federal regulations.
Sack said he’s not sure what to make of the decision.
“He just wasn’t sure of the status of them or what, I’m not sure, but it just didn’t seem that sincere,” Sack told Global News.
Violent response to Indigenous fishery
Since mid-September, when the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery, traps laid by Indigenous fishers have been repeatedly cut or damaged by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen.
The violence culminated on Oct. 13, with mobs of as many 200 people swarming two lobster pounds in southwestern Nova Scotia.
At a facility in New Edinburgh, N.S., the crowd removed and damaged video cameras then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
A van at the facility was set on fire.
Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., an Indigenous fisher told Global News.
Mi’kmaw fisherman Jason Marr and others were forced to take cover inside the lobster pound as the building’s windows were smashed out and Marr’s vehicle was damaged, he said.
“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it, pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires,” Marr told Global News by phone on Wednesday. He also claimed that they smashed the windows of the van, and said that he saw them kicking, punching and hitting it with objects.
Marr alleges the non-Indigenous fishers threatened to “burn” his group out of the building if they didn’t leave and allow them to seize the lobster catch.
“I thought they were going to kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.
Eventually, Marr’s group was forced to leave. Marr claims the non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.
The facility that Marr took cover in was later destroyed by what police called a “suspicious” fire later that week.
Injunction posted in response to violence
As part of the response to the violence, the Sipekne’katik First Nation was able to secure a temporary injunction this week to end any form of interference with the band’s fishing activities.
The band confirmed on Friday that it has distributed and posted the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia’s injunction, which prohibits stopping members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation from accessing wharves in Saulnierville, N.S. and Weymouth, N.S., or the lobster pound in New Edinburgh, N.S.
The injunction also applies to other acts including blockades, threats and harassment or intimidation.
“To date we are pleased with the charges that were brought against those who committed blatant offenses such as arson and assault, however, these just scratch the surface of what our people have suffered in the past month,” said Sack.
The First Nation has said the goal of the injunction is to build legal protections as its members attempt to exercise their treaty rights.
The inunction also authorizes RCMP or other police officers to arrest and remove any person they have reasonable ground to believe is contravening or has contravened the injunction.
The law firm Pink Larkin, which has been retained by the Sipekne’katik, has been gathering affidavits over the past two days, the First Nation said in a press release.
The affidavits will be submitted in order for additional charges to be brought against specific people in the non-Indigenous commercial fishery who are alleged to have assaulted, harassed or threatened members of Sipekne’katik First Nation as well as removing, damaging or destroying property.